Ragnarok Online is a pretty typical MMORPG. Based in the fantasy land of Rune Midgard, the player starts in a training zone as a "novice." Depending on which server you were playing on, the starting zone differed and had different enemies; mine had porings. As you leveled you gain your first, basic class: archer, thief, mage, swordsman and acolyte. They also later introduced tae-kwon kids, ninjas, and gunslingers. After leveling to 50, these would then become an even stronger class, which I cover a bit of down below.
The game play was based on groups and quests, though mostly it was self directed. Unlike WoW there isn't a specific quest line to follow, which is probably for the better considering the number of strange ports across different servers that people made. The main drivers were items and experience, for me at least, and I spent a lot of my time following various high-leveled friends around or running dungeons. I later joined a guild who would run raids daily and compete in the War of Emperium every weekend—this well prepared me for the commitment that I would give to guilds in World of Warcraft later on in life. To see the chaos that was the War of Emperium (if you aren't familiar) check out the video below.
There were two main differentiators between Ragnarok and other MMORPGs that will always make this my favorite over WoW. First, the character animations and monsters were anime-esque and so cute it hurt. The accessories were always adorable, and you could quite easily customize them to look even more adorable. One such accessory, I remember, were these little pink cheek marks, like they have in anime when a character is blushing. While they didn't really do anything for the stats of the character, they were well-liked and wanted because of their cuteness—they cost about one million zeny, the in-game currency of Ragnarok. Many of these items were sold in the main centers of cities by players that would put large speech bubbles above their head like "NOW SELLING>>>PORING HAT 1000000Z." I would set up shop and leave my computer running on my bed while I went to my classes in the hopes that I would return home and have a huge amount of money in my bank to buy more cute clothes for my avatar—a mage.
The other cool aspect of this game, in my opinion, was the ability to have your character become a transcendent class. So, basically, when you leveled all the way up to 99 by grinding, battling, and probably leeching off of your higher leveled friends, you were then able to be "reborn" into an even better version of your character. So, while you were forced to return back to a level 1 character, at level 50 when you were able to become your second-level class, you would become a transcendent class instead. You can read up a bit more on that here. I think that this was a unique way to keep the game interesting instead of just leveling to a final level and then completing tasks and quests to keep interest from waning.
I stopped playing this game when I traded in my PC for a Mac. For a few years I tried really hard to find any number of fixes to make it so that I could play again—bootcamp, installing ubuntu and wine, even contemplated buying another cheap PC just so I could play. Because of this empty hole in my life, I went on to play World of Warcraft again, an addiction that would take up the better part of the next 7 years. If you have a PC and are interested in having about half of your days sucked up by a game, I solidly recommend a good run of Ragnarok—the sprites are adorable, the people are nice, and it's been basically the same since I started (and ended) playing it. Two thumbs up.
NOTE: Just found a way to play this on a Mac, if you are interested, there's a video on how to set it up here. I'm going to do myself a favor and pretend I didn't see that.
FURTHER NOTE: Since writing this blog post, I caved and purchased a PC. I am now playing Ragnarok again, and if you install the Classic version on Steam you can find me as cupofaspirin.